Saffuriyya and Tzippori

Reading Along The NYRB
50 Years New York Review Of Books 50 Years

NYRB, 3 December 2009
Yale University Press


Thinking these days of Mahmoud Darwish and his poetry, I remembered a long and well written article I had read back in December 2009 which prompted me to order the reviewed biography:

Adina Hoffman
My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century
Yale University Press, 2010
It happens that Pankaj Mishra, who wrote that review, shall visit Berlin to give the opening speech for the 14th International Literary Festival, Berlin. He just published his book From The Ruins Of Empire, and in his article about Taha he observes:

„Taha transcends the territorial nationalism that, by a cruel irony of history, is a source of both pain and hope for Palestinians. In his beguiling mix of conservatism and absolute love of spiritual freedom, he resembles the great poems of Eastern Europe, Zbigniew Herbert and Czesław Miłosz, who also witnessed the obliteration of the world they knew, and whose sense of the precarious nature of things opened out into an intense but egoless awareness.“ (p 58)

Mishra appreciates the diligence of biographer „Adina Hoffmann, an Israeli – American writer and publisher based in Jerusalem“, in connecting the life and work of Taha Muhammad Ali with the place and time:

„There are any number of Israeli official histories and memoirs about 1948 and its aftermath, but hardly any accounts by Palestinians of what they call the Nakba, catastrophe. Aware of this asymmetry of knowledge, Hoffman not only examines Israeli archives with unremitting skepticism; she also questions perspicaciously the Palestinian tellers of anecdotes and the few surviving Israeli witnesses to the past (such as Dov Yermiya, whose conviction that Saffuriyya was not bombed from the air turns out to be one of the partial truths cherished by both sides in an intractable conflict).“

In July 1948 the Israeli air force had dropped bombs over Galilee. A ground assault followed and the family, among most of the villagers, fled; Taha was 17 years old. The surviving inhabitants of Saffuriyya were forcefully resettled, with no means to return. What had been left of the village, the Israeli army obliterated by dynamite. Where once 4000 Palestinian led a rural life, the city Tzippori of today was founded.

Taha Muhammad Ali wrote his first poems in 1971, when he was forty. Hoffman writes about that long way and how difficult it had been for Arabs to get hold of written works in their language and what an important place poetry festivals took, „held from the mid-1950s in villages and towns throughout Galilee“, as Mishra summarizes. The life as poets started there for Mahmoud Darwish and Rashid Hussein as well.

Apart from the review and from the biography, one can read up about Taha Muhammad Ali and the other Palestinian writers under the site of the Poetry Foundation, which also has two or three poems cited in translation, as this, of which I quote the first stanza:


The street is empty
as a monk’s memory,
and faces explode in the flames
like acorns—
and the dead crowd the horizon
and doorways.
No vein can bleed
more than it already has,
no scream will rise
higher than it’s already risen.
We will not leave!

The translation of the poems into English had been accomplished by Gabriel Levin (husband to Adina Hoffman); Peter Cole and Yahya Hijazi, who also are the translators for Taha Muhammad Ali; So what: New and selected Poems 1971 – 2005, (with one story) Copper Canyon, 2006


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